Experiencing the Legacy
By Maverick - TEC
As the early morning sun makes it’s way above the horizon,
you wearily open your sleep-dried eyes and look in it’s direction. You
stumble to your feet and get ready for the day. As you are waking up,
you feel your adrenaline start to flow. Excitement fills your veins and
starts pumping like motor oil. It’s race day, and you’re an Earnhardt
on your Earnhardt gear; hat, shirt, and any other paraphernalia you may
have brought with you. As you make your way to the track, you’re
constantly stopped with a handshake or pat on the back with shouts of
“nice hat” or “nice shirt”. You often return the call when a fellow
race fan walks by and is touting the same brand outerwear as you. The
kind of clothing that is branded and marked with the Earnhardt insignia,
for all to see. You’re an Earnhardt fan, and you’ll be damned if you’ll
let anyone tell you otherwise.
As fans of
other drivers (those non-D.E.I. or R.C.R) walk past, you give that
Earnhardt snicker and nod your head in a courteous hello. You may see
small children in red wagons with big number 3s or number 8s on the
side. You breathe a sigh of relief to KNOW that at least another
generation of Earnhardt fan will be present and by that time, they will
be as brash and strong willed about being Earnhardt fans as you are on
this very day.
to your seat in the grandstands, and look out over the vast track. A
warm feeling comes over you as you take a deep breathe and smell exhaust
fumes mixed with burnt rubber and hot asphalt. Air guns are being
tested in the garage area as crewman shout to each other and give orders
to prepare for the events that will transpire in the coming hours.
Drivers are walking around to their cars with their wives and families.
Your eyes meet pit-road head on, as you look up and down it, marveling
at the cars and the war-wagons. You rest your eyes on the bright #8
car, and just down from it the white #29, and a tear slips from your
eyes as if to signify “I remember when…”.
to remember The Intimidator at his souvenir trailer.
As you make
your way back underneath the grandstands to seek shelter from the heat
and to do some souvenir shopping, you’re again stopped by throngs of
Earnhardt fans who wish to state proudly that they share your
infatuation. You get in detailed conversations with people you’ve never
met, but you have a common topic. The saying “This was the year” and
lots of “Only ifs…” are commonplace. It makes you sit and reflect on
the memories….all 76+ of them. As one conversation ends, another is
soon to begin as you stand in the long lines awaiting you in front of
the souvenir trailers. Waiting in front of The Intimidator’s trailer
brings about stories about his hay-day; wrecks and wins; victory lane
celebrations, and controversy. Waiting in front of Little E’s is
another story. Though you may be donning Sr. apparel, Jr. holds a
special place in your heart. People see you and a smile streaks across
their face, as does yours, as you know that you are both thinking the
same things. Conversations are sparked about what the future holds.
How will Jr. stack up? Will he follow in his father’s footsteps? Those
questions are quickly put to rest when, up on the wall of Jr’s trailer
is a shirt that states on the front “Taking the story to another level”
and on the back “Intimidation II – Another Generation of Intimidation”.
You laugh as you realize that the future of stock car racing is solid as
long as an Earnhardt is at the forefront, and there will be one for many
years to come.
way back to your seat is harder now. The track is filling and it’s
getting closer to race time. Now it seems that every other person you
see is sporting some type of Earnhardt camouflage. The Earnhardt fans
seem to be growing in number. They are easily out-numbering any other
driver by 10-1. As you climb to your seats, the pre-race activities
start, and in just a few moments, the command will be given. The
drivers are just now being introduced. There are weak to moderate
responses for the drivers, until one name that is. One name that causes
such a defining noise that it is paralleled only by the sound of the
ocean’s waves crashing on its rocky shore. As the announcer towers over
the P.A. system, the crowd grows to a frenzy. “And, driving the #8
Budweiser Chevrolet, DALE EARNHARDT JR!” The noise around you is
unbelievable. Fans are holding up 3 fingers and people are waving their
#8 hats in the air. As Jr comes around in the back of the pickup truck,
the fans start to cheer “Junior” and “Earnhardt”. Little E, with his
hat backwards, waves and smiles thankfully. He knows the fans love him,
and he knows the fans support him. He knows he is an Earnhardt, and
he’ll be damned if he’ll let anyone tell him different.
has become a year-long ritual, fans at the race track hold up
three fingers to salute Dale Earnhardt on Lap 3.
command to fire engines is given, you’re ready. You’re ready to get it
on for however many miles this race is…it doesn’t matter to you because
you’re there, and you’re an Earnhardt fan. As the cars go green, you
can’t help but feel kind of awkward. You cheer for Jr and Harvick and
the rest of the gang, but in that place in your heart you can feel
something missing, and that something is the black number 3. Only time
can heal that, and you know it. When the field comes around to take lap
3, you stand with both hands in the air with the 3-finger salute,
honoring your fallen hero. As you look around, all 100,000 people (or
as far as you can see) are doing the same. People have tears in their
eyes and others are shouting with joy. As the field comes to take lap
4, everyone settles back down, and a warm feeling of belonging sweeps
through the stands, because for that lap, everyone was unified in
remembering Dale Earnhardt.
As the race
ends, you walk back towards your camper, and begin the same ritual that
brought you to the track. People stop you and compliment you on your
attire, and by now, you know you’ve had a great day. One thing you are
noticing is that it is not only fellow Earnhardt fans that are
complimenting you now, but fans of all drivers. Whoever it may be, a
bunch of people are talking to each other and having a great time.
Earnhardt and Gordon fans are reminiscing of the days of the Intimidator
v.s. the Rainbow Warrior. Regardless of who your favorite is, everyone
seems to be an Earnhardt fan. As you walk away from the track, you feel
great at what the day has done for you, yet, confused. It bewilders you
how fans of other drivers can be talking as if longtime Earnhardt fans.
That is when it hits you. Dale touched EVERYONE and his affects on the
common person were not reserved for only his diehard fans. Anyone who
is a true race fan sees what he did for the sport and it makes you proud
to see the homage that is being paid to him. He may be gone, but his
affect on the sport is ever lasting. He is anything but forgotten.
What other sport can you talk to people you have never met and feel like
you’ve known them your whole life? What other sport will fans of
another team come up and talk with you and be your best friend even
though you route for their rival? What other sport in the world is
there that people join together to support one common thing? What other
event is there that brings 100,000 people together in peace and
happiness; to rejoice and have fun and to enjoy each other’s company?
There is none, for just like Dale, the sport that he built is
unparalleled in all aspects. This is an experience you will never
forget. You are an Earnhardt fan, and damn proud of it.
Maverick can be contacted at
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